We have delved into a lot of coaching advice, like how do I pay for an Online MBA, how to balance business school and life, and how to use Online MBA Rankings. But what about the bad advice? What is the worst MBA advice you’ve ever gotten? Let’s talk about that! Some of it might be a total miss, and some might just need a little reframing. Let’s dive in!
Bad Advice-Getting an MBA will be your golden ticket to business advancement.
Let’s go through this one first. There is a lot of data, good data, showing that MBA graduates have higher salaries than those without. This is very encouraging empirical evidence for current and prospective MBA students. But this type of data at face value is not giving the whole story. MBA graduates climbing their prospective ladders are also using their past educational knowledge, current and past professional experience, and personal and professional networks. These are all pieces to the puzzle of business advancement. An Online MBA graduate with a limited network and professional experience can still have difficulty getting advanced professional opportunities. This, I can tell you from experience.
So, let’s just reframe it. An MBA is not a golden ticket, but it is an important tool. An MBA will give students important experience and critical business vocabulary to handle advanced business roles. It might not be a free pass to the C-suite, but it is a great tool to be coupled with experience and a professional network to climb the ladder to where professionals want to go.
Better Advice-An MBA is an important tool. Use it in combination with your other attributes, experiences, and network to get where you want to go.
Bad Advice-An Online MBA is not as good as in-person… don’t let people know it is online.
There are a few things to say about this. First, “online” will not be on your diploma, and there is no reason you have to divulge that information on your resume or in an interview if you do not want to. Second, don’t be fooled into thinking that an Online MBA is “less than” an online program. It is a Master’s of Business Administration offered in a different format.
Did you know that the US just passed a historic marker? AACSB recently surveyed almost 300 AACSB-accredited schools (aka, some of the most prestigious business schools in the nation) and found over 31% more fully online MBA students than fully in-person MBA students! Getting a degree, or taking classes, in an online format is no longer novel, but it is increasingly becoming normative. This means that first, this is nothing to be ashamed of. And also, over the past decade, top business schools with top MBA brands are offering programs in an online or hybrid format.
This is also a great opportunity to use your online format as a positive attribute. A vast majority of Online MBA students work and gain important on-the-job experience while also completing their degree. Highlight how that shows that you are tenacious, hard-working, and have as much education and experience as someone who spent twice as much time doing them separately. This is also a great time to use the virtual format as experience in virtual teams. Virtual teams have long been important for professionals who work with national and international business teams. Still, since the pandemic, virtual teams, even among local professionals, are now normative. This is applicable experience that you can use to your benefit.
Better Advice-Online MBA programs are not a faux pas and can be used to great advantage.
Bad Advice-Be the expert in the room, and position yourself as the “leader.”
This advice can be addressed in the classroom and in business. There are many types of leadership in business. Leadership doesn’t have to look like the loud, extroverted, my-way-or-the-highway type of authoritarian personality. One of the best books I read in an MBA class was Adaptive Leadership. We read and workshopped through this book and realized that leadership is not about being a general and leading a charge or cloning yourself by indoctrinating others to do what you do. Powerful leadership is unlocking the magic in a group/team and mobilizing them to tackle challenges in their own way and thrive.
Within your Online MBA, remember that this is an important time to learn. Learn from your professors and learn from your peers. In business, learn from your bosses, peers, and employees. No one expects or needs you to know everything. The quicker you accept that, the quicker you can build a diverse team and tackle a myriad of situations.
Better Advice-Leadership can look a lot of different ways. Embrace continuous learning.
Bad Advice-Find your true purpose and make that your career.
Everyone has seen the Venn diagram of finding your career at the overlap of your passion and what the world needs. This isn’t the worst MBA advice for everyone. This type of framework does work for some professionals. But if you are an accountant but really enjoy painting, you don’t have to try and push yourself to build a business around painting. If you feel like you need to get an MBA to make your hobby into your career, just know that you can, but you don’t have to. You are allowed to have a hobby you love and a job that pays the bills. You are allowed to not monetize your joy. Plus, your passions might change over time. You might become an accountant, transition to leadership, become a CEO, and start a business in another sector. Allow yourself to change over time.
Some professionals have a deep and strong sense of calling and passion. Some don’t. Pursue things you enjoy. Pursue things you are good at. But also experiment on how you pursue things, not just what. Maybe it is time to go back to school. Maybe it is time to get a coach on your work/life balance. There are many seasons to careers.
Better Advice-Keep an open mind when pursuing your career. You might travel through many seasons in your professional career.
Bad Advice-Never deviate from your business plan. Stick to it no matter what.
Plan out your business goals and execute them till you die. This is the way.
For the record, this doesn’t have to be the way. Especially if you are entering into your Online MBA, open yourself up to learning something new and growing in new ways. Your goals and plans may change. In fact, as a business leader, you will be required to understand change management and lead others through change. Business across the globe is constantly changing. Give yourself room in your mind to create good plans and adapt them.
Better Advice-Evolve your career goals as you go.
Bad Advice-Failure isn’t an option.
Just as you need to embrace change, it is time to embrace failure. Do you know the story of how penicillin was discovered? A scientist, Alexander Fleming, was looking for a wonder drug. He conducted some experiments and, after a family trip, came back to find that some of his Petri dishes were contaminated. After discarding the dishes, he realized that the contaminating mold was the breakthrough he was hoping for.
Start seeing yourself as a lifetime learner. Failure is just another opportunity to learn. In fact, “success” is also just another opportunity to learn. Did you bomb an assignment? Did a project go south? Get used to reflection and asking what worked and what didn’t. Maybe what happens after your “failure” might be the breakthrough you needed.
Better Advice-You can’t avoid failure no matter how hard you try. Embrace everything as an opportunity.
Bad Advice-Fake it until you make it.
Remember how you don’t need to be the expert? You don’t even need to act like you are. There is no need. One of the big lessons I learned in sales was, don’t be afraid to say I don’t know. Most people will value this, coupled with “let me find that out for you and get back to you,” over a made-up answer on the spot. This is another opportunity to learn and possibly ask for help.
Also, if you are in a room and things are unclear to you, more often than not, it is unclear to someone else. Are you in class, and a term or theory doesn’t make sense? Ask for clarity. Are you in a meeting, and a plan isn’t clear to you? Ask for clarity.
Keep communication open and go to others when you need help. Not only could you be aiding in making something better for the whole team, but the act of communicating and asking for help can forge important interpersonal connections.
Better Advice-Ask for help when necessary.
Bad Advice-Always say yes to opportunity.
Burnout is a real thing, especially when balancing work, your personal life, and your professional life. You need to treat your time and energy like the precious commodities they are. Learn to say no and embrace an outlook of abundance. If you say no to an opportunity now, believe another one will come along another time. Look at it this way: if you say yes to every opportunity now and burn out, there are a lot of opportunities that might come later that you will have no capacity to even entertain. And the thing with burnout is that it might push you out of your career or sector altogether.
Forbes has a lot of great advice on how to prevent burnout, but my favorite one is “be your most important client.” This means that your passions, time, and health come before anyone else’s demands on you. If someone demands something of you that is in opposition to your health or passions, you might need to learn to say no before you learn to say yes.
Better Advice-You might need to learn to say no.
Bad Advice-Try to fit in.
Trying to fit in perfectly by altering your true self is a disservice to you and others. Remember this in your applications and interviews. Homogeneity is not a positive attribute of any organization. This does not mean that you can’t look for organizations or schools with which you share core values. That is an important thing to keep in mind. But homogeneity is a breeding ground for echo chambers and short-sightedness. So, be genuine, and when possible, go even further and differentiate yourself from others. If a business school has a typical matriculate, try and highlight how you could bring something different to the table. A healthy list of similar and dissimilar attributes could be the thing to give you a competitive advantage.
Better Advice-Be Yourself.
Bad Advice-Just keep grinding and be all in.
This advice might be ambiguous, so let’s paint a picture. Say you are an entrepreneur trying to launch a business producing a particular product. Entrepreneurship can be very stressful. You might have to wear every hat within your business while also working a full-time job to pay the bills. While it is realistic to name that you will probably be working more than 40 hours per week, realize that it is not sustainable to live and breathe business 24/7. Many high-functioning professionals have a “dig deep” button that they can push when overworked, overstressed, and at the end of their rope. But I have recently been reminded that this dig deep button has a cost. Now is the time to really hone this in. It is important to find times to rest and try and figure out how to have work-life balance. Self-care shouldn’t be the last resort.
Better Advice-Strike a work-life balance. Make time to rest.
The worst MBA advice and the good advice can come at you from all angles. And since “good” and “bad” are subjective, what is good for someone else might not be good for you. If you are in an Online MBA program, this is a great time to start trying things to see how and if they work for you. Do you need a rigid schedule? Do you need to incorporate more self-care? Do you need to learn to say yes or no? What type of retrospection can you start implementing after projects or even meetings? Being a life-long learner is a powerful attribute. Start finding ways to incorporate that into your program and your business. Good luck!